Observation skills are one of the most important skills for social workers to have. Social work involves imposing on peoples lives. Developing the ability to manage anxieties this creates, is essential, ensuring the child remains the focus within complex situations (Trowell and Miles 2004). Child development theories provide guidance on age-related changes in behaviours, thoughts, feelings, and social relationships (Bee and Boyd 2010). Social workers need knowledge of child development, to make an informed assessment whether a child is developing within the spectrum of ‘normal’ or if they are a child in need.
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The observation model was an adjusted version of the Tavistock Model for studying infants. The original model observes a baby, an hour a week for the first one or two years of life, within the family home (Fawcett 2009). The observer does not take notes, as it allows them to notice all behaviours, movements and expressions of the child. Everything is recorded in detail after the observation. This can lead to forgetting some information within the write up. This model encourages the observer to avoid making judgements about the child’s behaviour and development until after the observation and to reflect on each observation (Fawcett 2009 and Quitak 2004).
The emphasis on reflection is strength of this model. It allows the observer to understand and separate their emotions and from the child’s emotions (Trowell and Miles 2004). This skill is essential for social workers to make informed assessment of the child.
Unlike the Tavistock Model, I completed five, one hour observations, in a nursery for three and four year olds. I did not take notes until observations 4 and 5, where I noted Sally’s language for accuracy. I completed detailed write ups straight after each observation and then took time to reflect upon my emotions and thoughts and Sally’s development.
The nursery was part of a primary school, run by the local authority. The building was separate to the rest of the primary school. It’s situated in a relatively affluent, middle class area, reflected in lower levels of free school meals compared to the general population. The nursery is open five days a week and the parent decides the days and times their child attends. Children can attend 8.30am to 11.30am, 12.30 to 3.30pm or all day from 8.30 to 3.30pm. Each session has between 15-20 children attending and the nursery has a total of forty children registered.
The two teachers have degrees in early year’s education. They work part-time, one on Monday and Tuesday and the other Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. There is a nursery manager and a nursery assistant working full-time and a volunteer supporting two days a week. The nursery manager supports children within the classroom and appears to have equal status to other staff.
The nursery is governed by Ofsted. The last report in October 2009 awarded the nursery a level of good. The report stated the overall effectiveness, outcomes, quality of provision and management of the Early Years Foundation stage was good.
The staff make home visits to all children before starting nursery, to introduce themselves to the parent and child. The nursery is well equipped for young children. There is a large outside playing area, with plenty of age appropriate toys, including plastic climbing frames, slides, bikes and drawing areas. There are windows all the way around the nursery making it light and airy, and the walls are covered with educational material and children’s work. String hangs across the nursery where children’s work is attached.
One end of classroom is the ‘free play’ area with bean bags, children’s sofas, books laid out and an interactive white board, which the children can use. The other end is for the children sit together as a class. There is a role-play area, containing a child’s kitchen, and a water tub with toys in. There are four tables in the nursery one set up for painting and art, one for writing and the other two with different activities everyday on. There are two computers each with educational games opened on them. When the weather is dry children are encouraged to play outside. All the children wear school uniform, navy jumper/cardigan, black trousers or skirt and a white t-shirt.
I observed a Muslim, British-Pakistani girl called ‘Sally’. She is aged 3 years and 5 months. She attends the nursery five days a week from 8.30am-3.30pm. She is slightly shorter than the average height, has long black hair, with big brown eyes. Her parents are married and her mum works at a local high school teaching I.T. She has an older sister and two cousins attending the primary school. She has been attending day care since about a year old, but began this nursery in September 2012.
I chose this nursery because it was a five minute walk from my house. It took a few weeks to contact the nursery manager because they were attending home visits. After speaking with this nursery manager she recommended Sally because she had ‘normal’ development, attended the nursery regularly and thought her parents would be happy to give consent.
I gave the nursery the information from the UEA and the consent letter for Sally’s mother to sign, which was returned, signed to me. I did not speak directly to Sally’s parents and was not introduced to Sally or the class. When I arrived at the observation I took a seat and started observing, which felt uncomfortable. In future observations, I would ask to be introduced to the class as someone watching how children grow, so I am not a stranger in the room. Sally was aware I was watching her but was unaware who and why I was doing this, which may be confusing for Sally. In future, I would speak to Sally, on my last observation to explain who I was and why I had been watching her.
My observations took place 01/10/2012, 12/10/2012, 9/11/2012, 24/11/2012 and 27/11/2012. Originally I organised my observations for Friday mornings between 9-10am. I planned this, so I could compare Sally’s development to limit other factors influencing her behaviour, such as tiredness at the end of the day. My first observation was scheduled for 28/09/2012; however, Sally was off sick. I decided to observe Monday 01/10/2012 between 9-10am, because I was at university the following Friday.
I had arranged an observation for 26/10/2012 but this was Eid and Sally was off school and the following week was half term. This created the large gap between the second and third observation. I completed my final observation on a Tuesday afternoon, 2.30-3.30pm, because it allowed me to observe Sally being collected by her aunt. Although the observations did not occur evenly spread, I was able to observe the difference in Sally with the different teachers. Observations one and five were completed with one teacher, two three and four the other. I chose observation three to analyse because provides a general overview of all areas of Sally’s development.
Observation in full
23/11/2012 Child observation
Three teachers and 17 children present
When I arrived Sally was sitting in the back of the classroom being read a story by a volunteer helper. She was looking at the book at she was read to and listening to it. This lasted for around 2-3 minutes until the teacher rung the bell. Sally got up and put her fingers in the air and started to move her fingers back and forth (all the class do this to show attention is on the teacher). The teacher announced it was time for the good morning song and all the children needed to be seated on the carpet area. Sally moved over towards the carpeted area. She stopped at the Playdough table and began to make small round shapes with the Playdough and out them into paper cake holders. She was cutting the Playdough with a plastic spatula, to break the Playdough up into smaller sizes to fit in the cake holders. There were other children at the table doing the same thing as Sally was there.
The teacher said everyone should be sitting on the carpet; Sally looked up and then looked down again to carry on what she was doing. As she noticed the other children leaving she left. She and another boy were the last two to leave the table. Sally sat down on the carpet and pulled her trousers up to her knees and crossed her legs, putting her hands in her lap. She sat swaying for a short period of time side to side gently bumping into the boy sitting next to her, while he done the same towards her, smiling at each other.
The teacher went round and said hello to all the children, Sally replied ‘hello’ loudly with a wave towards the teacher. Sally looked over at me after she said hello and then quickly looked away.
The teacher began singing the good morning song, Sally did not sing along except for a few words. The teacher then said she had got the song wrong and Sally, along with all other children began to laugh. Sally’s face was animated with a large smile across her face. She had got up on her knees and was kneeling, rocking back and forth. The song began again and Sally sung along. She said ‘Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday too.’ When she said the too she said this a little bit loud with her facial features becoming more prominent. Her lips pointed out further as she said too. Sally counted ‘one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven’ as the days of the week were counted.
Sally was sat rocking on her knees as she sung to the song. As the song finished a nursery assistant touched Sally’s arm to indicate to sit back on the carpet and move backwards a bit. Sally responded to this and sat back down on the carpet with her legs crossed an arms tucked in her lap.
Sally pulled up her socks. She pulled them so they were up as far as they could go, she then continued to tug at them, appearing to try make them go higher up her leg. She did this for both legs. She then began to press the bottom of her shoe as this made the lights in the sole flash red.
The teacher told the class they would be doing a Christmas play and they would be getting dressed up and singing. The children were asked to stand up in a circle to practice some nursery rhymes. The class sung ‘humpty dumpty’. Sally knew all the words to this and sung along. She temporarily held the child’s hand next to her. Sally followed actions of the class to fall down when humpty dumpty had a great fall, then got up after the teacher said they didn’t need to fall down. Sally put her hands out in front of her with clenched fists and began to pretend to ride a horse, when the rhyme said all the kings’ horses. Sally was smiling while she was saying the rhyme. The class then sung ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’. Sally smiled during this rhyme but did not say too many words. She was looking around at other children, many of the other children did not say as much as the teacher did to this rhyme.
The class was asked to sit back down and the teacher would pick the children sitting well to choose activities to play with. Sally sat with her legs crossed and her arms between her legs, so she ended up sitting on her hands, and she was rocking back and forth. Sally was chosen to pick an activity.
Sally went over to the Playdough table and along with another 5 children began to make shapes with the Playdough. My view was blocked by the other children and could not see what shapes she was making but saw her interacting with other children. Sally looked at me a few times while she was playing with her Playdough, but showed no expression on her face as she looked at me. I smiled at her and then looked away around the classroom. Sally did not smile back when I smile at her.
Sally then moved over towards the back area where the teacher had gone. She sat down in the back corner on the children’s sofa with a book. She looked through the book quickly looking at each page quickly before turning the page. She sat there for a few minutes doing this, another girl came and sat next to her and looked at the book. My view was partly blocked by the children in front of her dancing. Another girl went over and stood in front of her, they exchanged words. I could not hear what was being said because of the children in front of her.
Sally moved over to the table and began to look at the nursery rhyme sheets which were lying on the table. She looked at each one and then moved onto the next sheet. The teacher came over and said to Sally ‘do you want me to read one to you? Which one would you like?’ Sally replied ‘that one’ and pointed to a blue sheet. The teacher began to read this. The teacher was then distracted by another child and left after reading the rhyme. Sally got up and moved slightly away from the chair she was sitting on.
Sally got up and began to dance alongside the teacher to a train song. The song has a video which is shown on the interactive white board. Sally was put her hands out in front of her slightly bent and made them go round in circles, like a trains wheels. The teacher said ‘I like your dancing Sally, have you been practicing?’ Sally looked up and smiled at the teacher and carried on dancing. She began to become more animated in her moves, moving around the carpet with her arms going up and down.
Sally said ‘my foot’ and the teacher looked down and said ‘sorry Sally, are you ok?’ Sally continued to dance to the song. The next song was a song about stars and Sally moved her arms out the side and her spread her legs (like a star) and then began jumping up and down. Sally danced for the whole song. She then danced to the football song, and pretended to kick a football with her leg.
The teacher said ‘Sally come here’ and Sally went over towards the teacher. She stood next to her and she explained the order for the children to choose the song on the interactive whiteboard. Joanne would be before Sally. The teacher told another child this and as she said and then Joanne, Sally said ‘and then meâ€¦and then me’. Smiling and looking in the direction of the teacher. As the song finished she said out loud ‘your turn!’ To the child who was next to choose the song.
A boy went up to Sally as she was dancing and she showed her a toy butterfly. Sally looked at him and smiled and said ‘that’s not mine’. She briefly took it off him and looked at it and then handed it back to the boy.
The boy walked away and as he did another boy came up to Sally and started to push her. Sally’s face went from smiling to frowning. The boy stopped as they both got closer to the bookcase, and sally moved away from him, still frowning. The teacher said ‘are you pushing sally Harry?’ As Sally saw the teacher approach her bottom lip dropped and started to wobble, Sally walked towards the teacher and looked up towards her. She made a few sounds like she would begin to cry. This quickly stopped as the teacher spoke to the boy, Sally now had her back to me but I could see she was rubbing her face as the teacher spoke to Harry. The boy apologised to Sally after the teacher had asked him to – ‘sorry Sally’.
The teacher moved away to a different area of the classroom, Sally followed her. I could not hear what was said, but appeared to ask the teacher a question and tell her a short story. The teacher knelt down to Sally’s height and listened and responded to her. The teacher asked Sally whether she wanted to paint a picture for her mum or to do some writing. Sally said ‘writing Mrs (teachers name). Sally followed the teacher to the writing table. She stood at the table for a few seconds then looked at the drawing table. She walked over to get an apron and stood beside the table. She looked at the girl standing next to her, who had just sat on the chair in front of her and then stood up. She went to sit on the chair, but then got up again. They both stood next to the chair.
Sally stood looking at the table and the other children sitting at it, clutching her apron. The teacher said to another child the shape was a diamond, Sally said ‘diamond’ as she stood there. The teacher replied ‘yes’. Sally began to draw a shape in the air with her fingers. She made the shape of a diamond. She moved her arm down and outwards, then down and inwards. She then moved her arm back up. The teacher said ‘yes that’s a diamond shape’.
The teacher said to Sally ‘you have to wait until there’s a space for you to do itâ€¦.oh there is a space now James has just finished’. Sally walked over to the teacher and looked at her. I could see if she asked for her help to put the apron on. The teacher said ‘I want to see if you can put your apron on, can you do it?’ The teacher then showed Sally how to put her apron on, putting it over her head and arms through the wholes.
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Sally sat down at the table and picked up different sponge shapes to print them onto the paper. She printed the amount of shapes she wanted on the paper and then put the sponges back; each sponge had different colour paint. She put each sponge in the correct pot it had come from. She said to another girl ‘can I put that back?’ she was standing up leaning across the table with her arm pushed out, trying to put the sponge back in the correct pot, which the girl was holding. The girl handed the pot to her.
After she had finished her painting she took her paper over to the teacher and stood next to her, showing her. The teacher said ‘let’s have a look at your painting, that’s lovely. Can you name the shapes for me?’ sally pointed to each shape saying ‘diamond’ at the diamond shapes, ‘circles’ at the circles and ‘squares’ at the squares. Sally got stuck on one diamond shape as she had printed it in a different direction to the others. The teacher said ‘that’s a diamond as well; look if we turn the page you can see it’s a diamond’.
She tried to walk behind the teacher’s chair, between a small gap and a set of drawers. The teacher said ‘what do you say..excuse me please’. Sally replied ‘excuse me please’. The teacher moved her chair and the stack of drawers and Sally walked through the gap.
Sally came and sat next to me at the table I was sitting at, where the teacher was also sitting. Sally was kneeling on the chair. The teacher was talking to another child about the hedgehogs they had previously made. Sally lent across the table and said ‘I did one, I did one’. She began to feel the clay hedgehogs she had made previously. They had uncooked spaghetti sticking out of the for the hedgehogs spikes. As she touched them she said ‘ow ow’. She turned to look at me and said ‘I just touched a hedgehog’ holding her hand out in front of her, to show me her hand. I replied ‘are you ok’ She smiled and turned away. She then turned back to me and said ‘what’s your name?’ I smiled and said ‘Lisa’. She turned away again. Sally asked the teacher ‘where’s my hedgehog â€¦ I don’t want to touch the spikes’
She had small whiteboards in front of her to write on. She was using her fingers to clear the pen which had been left on it. A nursery helper came over with some tissue for her to use to wipe it off.
She looked over to the girl sitting on the other side of the teacher. The teacher was holding a laminated name card with Sarah written on it. ‘Is that how you spell Sarah?’ Sally asked the teacher. The teacher said ‘yes’ it’s similar to your name ‘sss, s for Sally’. Sally asked the teacher ‘where’s my name?’ The teacher found Sally’s name out of the stack of name cards and showed her, her name.
Sally was still leaning forward towards the table and had not sat back properly on her seat. Her bum was on the front edge of the chair and she was leaning forward, towards the table. The teacher told her she was worried she would fall off her chair and onto the floor and pulled her seat closer to the table. Sally told the teacher ‘you just, just pushed me!’ the teacher responded saying she meant to push the chair in. Are you ok?’ Sally said ‘yes’ and the teacher said ‘sorry’.
Sally said she was trying to write all the names of the children in the nursery. She was saying ‘James, John, Ellie, Rob’ drawing small black circles, about three or four in row, resembling a word. The teacher asked her if she was writing the names of all the children in the class. Sally said she was as. Sally wrote a letter resembling a ‘P’ and the teacher said if you draw a line down from there (pointing to where the circle of the p meets the line down) you can create an R. ‘R for Rob’
Sally looked at the teacher and asked her ‘how do you spell my name on the board?’ The teacher wrote Sally on the white board and said ‘can you copy and write your name?’ Sally used the black whiteboard to attempt to write her name. Sally was writing small black blobs and circles which appeared to be drawing instead of writing. Sally was concentrated and focused on attempting to write her name. She said ‘rub my name out and no one can see’; Sally was rubbing the board with her hand to remove the marker pen. The teacher said to her ‘good thing can start again.’
Analysis of one observation
Piaget suggested children have an active part in developing knowledge and understanding (Bee and Boyd 2010). He suggests cognitive development progresses through stages, relating to changes in brain structure and intelligence. The stages are sensori-motor stage (0-2 years), pre-operational stage (2-7years), concrete operational stage (7-12years) and formal operational stage (12+ years) (Smith, Cowie and Blades 2005).
Sally is 3.5 years, therefore at the preoperational stage of development. During this stage children develop symbolic thought, the ability to think of one thing but representation it in a different form, enabling language development and imaginative play (Smith, Cowie and Blades 2005). The preoperational child has egocentric thinking, focusing only on their view and believing everyone has the same view. They struggle to understand conservation – small changes in appearance do not change the object or its quantity (Bee and Boyd 2006).
However, Vygotsky suggested Piaget did not acknowledge the impact the social environment has on cognitive development. Vygotsky believed social interaction is vital for cognitive development, he believed children maximise their potential working with more capable others (Schaffer 2004). Vygotsky described the ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD), the difference between the child’s knowledge and, with support, what they are capable of learning. A more capable person offers guidance and support, to the child during the task. Demonstrating how to complete a task and giving feedback on what’s right or wrong. The guidance provided a level above the child’s current level of understanding, but not above what they are capable of learning, it’s within their ZPD. This guidance is called scaffolding (Schaffer 2004).
These are examples, demonstrate Sally’s preoperational stage of cognitive development, this is expected for Sally’s age. Sally demonstrates symbolic thought through her use of language and through her actions. Sally sung ‘Humpty Dumpty’, clenching ‘her fists and began pretend to ride a horse’. Sally’s ability to use symbolic thought was shown through her action of pretending to ride a horse her thought was represented in her actions. This was also shown when Sally’s dancing to a football song. She ‘pretended to kick a football with her leg’. Showing Sally’s ability to hold the thought of a pretend ball and express kicking it in actions.
Sally had difficulty understanding conservation. After painting she struggled to name a diamond because it was a different position. ‘The teacher said, “That’s a diamond as well; look if we turn the page you can see it’s a diamond”. This shows Sally struggling to understand shape remains unchanged even if its position on the paper is different.
Scaffolding examples are shown between Sally and the teacher. ‘Sally wrote a letter resembling a ‘P’, the teacher said if you draw a line down from there (pointing to where the circle of the p meets the line down) you can create an R. ‘R for Rob’. Before this Sally attempted to write the names of children in the class, one called Rob. This was within Sally’s ZPD because she had created a ‘P’; the teacher recognised this and guided her to write an ‘R’, from the ‘P’. Sally asked ‘how do you spell my name on the board?’ The teacher wrote Sally on the white board and asked ‘can you copy and write your name?’ Sally attempted to copy this. This demonstrates the teacher giving examples and guidance to complete an action.
Social Learning Theory (SLT) suggests language is learnt through imitation and reinforcement (Smith, Cowie and Blades 2005). Skinner suggested children imitate adult’s speech, developing language. Noises resembling words are reinforced, and therefore repeated, overtime developing into words. Children use adults for guidance on what sounds and words to make, correct meaningful words are responded to positively, incorrect words are corrected, until speech becomes adult like (Smith, Cowie and Blades 2005). This is supported by children having higher language abilities when spoken to more often and developing the same language and accent as adults they spend time with (Smith, Cowie and Blades 2005). However language is learnt to quickly for this to fully explain language development (Passer and Smith 2003).
Chomsky argues language has an innate, biological basis. The Language Acquisition Device (LAD) allows language to be learnt (Smith, Cowie and Blades 2005). LAD identifies regularities in language, tests new words against these, either accepting or rejecting them (Smith, Cowie and Blades 2005). Children appear to develop language through the same stages, understanding certain grammar before others, making similar errors in production and comprehension at each stage (Whitaker 2010) supporting LAD theory.
Sheridan (2008) suggests certain speech patterns are evident at ages three and four. At three children ask lots of ‘wh’ questions (what, when, why), identify objects by function, count up to ten (learnt by repetition) and listen to stories, wanting favourites repeated. At four children know nursery rhymes, use understandable, grammatically correct speech, begin counting objects and can count up to twenty (Sheridan 2008).
SLT is evidenced when Sally needs to walk past the teacher. The teacher said ‘what do you sayâ€¦excuse me please’. Sally replied ‘excuse me please’. Sally imitated the teachers’ words; this was reinforced by the teacher letting Sally past. She’s learnt saying this, means other people move out of her way.
As Sheridan (2008) suggested for three years, Sally listened whilst being read to, ‘She was looking at the book as she was read to and listening to it. This lasted for around 2-3 minutes’ until interrupted. In addition ‘Sally counted ‘one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven’.
Sally sung nursery rhymes, ‘Humpty Dumpty’, and ‘Hey Diddle, Diddle’ and used complex, grammatically correct sentences; ‘Is that how you spell Sarah?’ and ‘how do you spell my name on the board?’ Suggesting Sally’s language is slightly above what’s expected for her age, showing signs of a four year old level (Sheridan 2008). Teachers at the nursery commented her language is above what they would expect for her age.
Sally’s language development being slightly above expectations could relate to attending a high quality nursery, since an early age. The National Institute of Child and Human Development (NICHD) Early Child Care Research Network (2000) suggested high quality day care is associated with better cognitive and language development although quantity of time in day care had neither positive nor negative effects on these developmental areas. Language development was measured on parental feedback, not standardized testing. Possibly biasing results, parents may not want to think their child is underachieving so exaggerate ability.
Social development and play
Piaget suggested children’s play goes through stages. Constructive play is the first to be achieved (before 2 years), pretend play (2-3 years), socio-dramatic play (3-5 years) and rule governed play (by 5 or 6 years) (Bee and Boyd 2006). Sally is at the socio-dramatic stage of play. Two or more children take roles to act in a pretend scenario. Dunn and Cutting (1999) found children who pretend play with friends, maintain friendlier play for longer. This helped children develop ‘Theory of Mind’ understanding others thoughts and feelings. Socio-dramatic play is evidenced in later observations.
Parten (1932) suggested different types of play, solitary independent play (alone), parallel play (alongside each other, little interaction), occurs between 2.5 and 3.5 years, associative play (activities completed with others, without organization or direction) occurs between 3.5 and 4.5 years and cooperative or organised supplementary play (organised activities, aiming towards a goal). Evidence is discussed in the next section.
There’s limited evidence of Sally playing in this observation. She displays associative play at the table, playing with Playdough and interacting with five other children. Play is not organised, they are completing similar activities without a specific goal.
Howes, Phillips and Whitebook (1992) suggest lower quality care can result in children wandering, not being involved in social activities or play with peers and teachers. This can have a negative impact on children’s social and cognitive development. However higher quality care with developmentally appropriate activities, encourage children to socialise and interact with teachers and peers have more socially competent children.
Kohlberg refined Piaget’s theory of moral development, suggesting three levels of development, each containing two stages (Kohlberg and Hersh 1977). Preconventional Level is level one, containing stage one – ‘The punishment and obedience orientation’ and stage two – ‘The Individualism, instrumental purpose and exchange’. Level two is ‘Conventional Level’, containing stage three – ‘Mutual interpersonal expectations, relationships and interpersonal conformity’ and stage four – ‘Social system and conscience’. Level three is Postconventional or Principled Level, containing stage five – ‘The social-contract orientation’ and stage six – ‘the universal ethical principle orientation’ (Kohlberg and Hersh 1977). Kohlberg suggested people move up through stages, but few reach the Postconventional level. People understand reasoning one stage above theirs but struggle understanding above this. Being in a social group is important to learn what is morally right and wrong (Kohlberg and Hersh 1977). Therefore children in day care have the opportunity to learn from others about right and wrong.
Children below nine are usually at the Preconventional level, including Sally. Reasoning and judgements are based on what authority says is right or wrong (Bee and Boyd 2010), for Sally this is teachers or parents. Right or wrong is understood as what’s punished, children follow rules to avoid punishment. Stage two; rules are followed when in their immediate interest. Good, is what has pleasant results (Bee and Boyd 2010). Kohlberg suggests, despite gender or culture moral development happens this way (Passer and Smith 2003). Although, Sally is British-Pakistani she will progress through these stages.
Kohlberg is criticised for having a male bias theory and basing his theory on clinical research using scenarios, not based on real life (Smith, Cowie and Blades 2005).
Sally displays moral development resembling stage one. She’s well behaved, following rules during the observation. The class have been told when the bell rings, stop, put their hands up and look at the teacher. When the bell rung ‘Sally go